Tuesday night marks the NBA Draft Lottery, and while it won`t have a tangible impact on the Toronto Raptors (at least not directly), it does mark the unofficial tip-off of draft preparation season. Coming out of the NBA Draft Combine last week in Chicago (shouts to Jerry Stackhouse and Jesse Mermuys, coaches at the event) – check all of the measurement and drill results here – the Raptors will begin their pre-draft workout process on Wednesday at BioSteel Centre.
Pre-draft workouts generally entail an interview portion, physicals, and then drills and games of varying matchups and intent. Most of these sessions aren’t open to media and the team keeps a tight lip about who does or doesn’t impress, but you can still come away with a feel of where they’re looking or what they may be trying to do. Last year’s workouts were colored by the quest to bring in potential top-10 picks with the No. 9 selection in hand, and none of the presumed top-eight wound up visiting Toronto. With only the No. 23 pick this time around, the Raptors could once again struggle to bring in lottery-tier talent, even with a wide-open class outside of the top 15 or so, and even with the specter of the Raptors potentially rebuilding and thus looking to acquired a pick or move up.
Luckily, this is only a part of the process. The Raptors’ scouts have been all over the country on and off throughout the college season, converged on the combine, and will surely attend private or agency-run camps in the coming weeks. The adidas Eurocamp looms soon, too. And then, of course, there are secret or accidentally secret workouts, like when Toronto met with Jaylen Brown (allegedly) last year or worked out Jakob Poeltl and Pascal Siakam, among others, in Buffalo. Yes, last year I spent weeks at BioSteel only for the team’s two picks to be players who weren’t even at those sessions. It’s still valuable time spent, and you get a sense from players and team personnel alike how the Raptors treat the proceedings.
The team’s draft history may point a certain way, too. If nothing else, it’s clear that Masai Ujiri and company value maturity in their prospects. Delon Wright and Norman Powell were both four-year seniors, and Jakob Poeltl and Pascal Siakam had two years of college under their belts plus the added growth of being international players in those situations. Ujiri also isn’t afraid to go international, nor is he afraid to reach – Powell and DeAndre Daniels were both fringe picks he selected in the early-mid second round, Bruno Caboclo was an immense reach, and Siakam was safely considered a second-rounder. There’s something to be said for this given how finite draft picks are – if you like a guy, you only get one, maybe two shots to select him, and you have to weight floor, projectability, upside, and skill scarcity accordingly.
Here’s a quick look back at Ujiri’s history when working as a part of a team’s draft decision-making core.
2016 – Raptors
Jakob Poeltl (#9)
Pascal Siakam (#27)
2015 – Raptors
Delon Wright (#20)
Norman Powell (#46, acquired in trade)
2014 – Raptors
Bruno Caboclo (#20)
DeAndre Daniels (#37)
Sold pick (#59)
2013 – Nuggets/Raptors (Ujiri was Toronto’s GM at this point and the Raptors had no picks, but he left Denver on May 31, so he still would have had a hand in Denver’s scouting/draft lead-up, if not the selections)
Traded pick (#27)
Erick Green (#46, acquired in trade)
Joffrey Lauvergne (#55, acquired in trade)
2012 – Nuggets
Evan Fournier (#20)
Quincy Miller (#38)
Izzet Turkyilmaz (#50)
2011 – Nuggets
Kenneth Faried (#22)
Jordan Hamilton (#26, acquired in trade)
Chukwudiebere Maduabum (#56, acquired in trade)
2010 – Raptors (assistant GM)
Ed Davis (#13)
Solomon Alabi (#50, acquired in trade)
2009 – Raptors (assistant GM)
DeMar DeRozan (#9)
2008 – Raptors (director of global scouting)
Traded pick (#17)
Nathan Jawai (#41, acquired in trade)
This doesn’t necessarily inform how Ujiri, Jeff Weltman, and company will approach this draft. The question that kind of hangs over everything is what direction the Raptors are even going in. If they’re ultimately going to blow things up, maybe swinging for the fences with the highest upside player is the right approach. Maybe they’re extremely aggressive in moving up. If they’re going to try to be good again, maybe the pick is dangled to try to help unload a bloated salary. Maybe it’s once again used on a mature piece that could help if absolutely needed and would otherwise be tabbed for one or two years of development with Raptors 905.
One thing Ujiri generally hasn’t done is draft for a short-term need, so those looking for shooting at No. 23 may or may not need to look elsewhere. Rosters and situations are simply too fluid to worry much about near-term fit, with Wright looking like he plugged a hole for all of a week and Siakam looking completely superfluous in the short-term until injuries struck. In fact, if there’s one common thread in Ujiri’s recent drafts, it’s that he appears to believe shooting can be learned and developed – not a single one of their picks in the last three drafts came advertised as an above-average shooter, and Wright, Powell, and Siakam all needed mechanical work on their shots. It will be interesting to see if that element of the strategy changes at all as the team talks up a need for more modernization in the offense, or if the focus still falls on length, speed, and defensive versatility above all else.
The Raptors don’t have a second-round pick, by the way, having sent it to the Phoenix Suns in the P.J. Tucker deal. They’ll also select 23rd because they owned the better of the picks between themselves and the Clippers, with the lesser going to Orlando from the Serge Ibaka acquisition. As a side-note, best I can tell, first-round picks won’t be eligible to sign two-way hybrid contracts, so if the Raptors use the pick and it’s not a draft-and-stash, the player will be on the roster and on the books for $1.65 million (120 percent of scale).
Heading into the draft, here’s what the Raptors’ roster looks like:
Cory Joseph, Delon Wright
Unrestricted free agent
DeMarre Carroll, Bruno Caboclo
Unrestricted free agent
Unrestricted free agent
Serge Ibaka, Patrick Patterson
Jonas Valanciunas, Jakob Poeltl, Lucas Nogueira
Nando De Colo (RFA rights, signed in Russia two more years)
DeAndre Daniels, DeeAndre Hulett (draft rights)
No. 23 pick, 2017
All 1st-round picks, 2018 onward
All 2nd-round picks, 2019 onward
And coming out of the combine, here’s a look at the prospect rankings from Chad Ford, Draft Express, and The Ringer (you had to be on the top-60 on all three sites to make this table; players in bold rank 23 or lower and 23 or higher on at least one list):
We’ll have coverage of each pre-draft workout as best we can. They’re currently scheduled for Wednesday, Thursday, Monday, and Tuesday, with more surely to follow.
Anyone stand out to you as potentially available at No. 23 and who has piqued your interest?